My Last Two Weeks in Kenya

1 07 2011

By Nina Woolley
Rising Senior; Candidate for B.S. in Biology and Certificate in Global Health

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of SOTENI Kenya or SOTENI International.

After I arrived safely back in Nairobi last Wednesday, three new SOTENI interns arrived. They are three American students (an undergraduate at Ohio State, a medical student at Univ. of Cincinnati, and an MPH student at Tulane), and it has been great getting to know them over the past few days! After they had a quick orientation in Nairobi and I had a day to write many of my reports on the sponsored orphans and vulnerable children I had visited, we actually took a short break from work to be tourists.

We went on a completely remarkable three-day safari to Maasai Mara. Although I felt slightly uncomfortable with the contrast between the poverty I’d witnessed and the luxury safari lodge, I had a really amazing time once I allowed myself to enjoy it. I wish I could post the photos now, but each one takes about an hour to load when using this internet modem, so I think I’ll have to wait to upload photos at the very end of my internship. We saw every animal that we had wanted to see: elephants, zebras, gazelles (all types), buffalo, lions, hippos, cheetahs, ostriches, jackals, a rhino, a leopard, and many interesting small birds. At one point a large male elephant even chased our vehicle, and our guide told us that it was mating time and we had gotten too close to the female elephants. What a great experience! I’m so glad I took the time to enjoy this other aspect of Kenya.

I am now writing this from Mbakalo, in Western Province. It is a fertile, very rural sub-location near Webuye. We arrived here two days ago, and we hit the ground running. We spent the first day meeting with many health workers in the community, including the Public Health Officer at the nearest hospital, the SOTENI dispensary staff, the local management committee, the “AIDS Barefoot Doctors,” and the traditional birthing attendants. We are each working on different projects here. I will focus on working at the dispensary and helping to develop their process and procedures manual. After spending several days with my host mom Regina at a Government of Kenya Health Centre in Mituntu, I now have a lot of information about government health operations and I am looking forward to learning about NGO health operations. I hope to compare the daily operating procedures I learned at the Mituntu Health Centre with those at the SOTENI dispensary, and maybe introduce the Mituntu Health Centre methods of keeping records, controlling inventory, etc. to the SOTENI clinical officer, since he already seemed interested in that.

I have become somewhat acquainted with the dispensary in these past two days, but I certainly have a lot more to learn. The dispensary is a “level two” centre in Kenya, which is less comprehensive than Regina’s “level three” centre. They offer treatments for malaria, typhoid, other infections, allergies, and wounds; they offer some antenatal care and have a delivery room; they offer HIV testing and several other lab tests; and they offer immunizations and child growth-monitoring. The facility itself is very small and lacks indoor plumbing, but it has dedicated staff members and good solar-panel electricity. They are also hoping to improve the facility and maybe construct a new building over time. Today, I spoke with the accounts manager to learn about finance management and the procedures for procurement of drugs (in general, most drugs are purchased in bulk from the nearest large town, but vaccines are provided for free from the government). I am still looking forward to speaking in-depth with the clinical officer and the laboratory technician to learn more about the medical side of things at the dispensary.

Apart from my work with the dispensary, I will also visit another five or six sponsored students to update their reports. By the time I leave Kenya, I should have met with about 40 students! That is something I’ve enjoyed doing very much, as I get to learn about the lives of children who have been orphaned by AIDS and also get to learn about the Kenyan education system, since all of the students are sponsored to stay in school.

Finally, I will be helping a fellow intern conduct a needs assessment in the catchment area of the dispensary. We will be asking several questions, such as: Have you or your children ever visited the SOTENI dispensary? What care did you receive there? How many children have you given birth to? Where did you deliver? Do you have a bed net? Who slept under the net last night? There are many other questions as well, all designed to provide more information about the health conditions of the community and the best way for SOTENI to meet their needs at the dispensary. I will spend the whole day tomorrow visiting homes to conduct the assessment, and I’ll go with one translator while two other interns pair up with another. From then on, I’ll probably spend half of each day at the dispensary working on gathering information, shadowing the clinicians, and writing the procedures manual, and I’ll spend the other half of each day helping to conduct the needs assessment.
I have so much to do in so little time, but I am really energized and excited by my projects here in Mbakalo. I think this will be a wonderful way to finish up my internship!

As a final note: We are staying with a wonderful woman called “Mama Anne” who has eight HIGHLY energetic young grandchildren. The children are entranced by us, and they love to run around, climb on us, scream, and jump. In addition, they think it is completely hilarious that white skin turns pink when you slap or pinch it… Ouch! Definitely not funny.

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